Mondulkiri provincial authorities have seized several bulldozers from five Vietnamese nationals who were set to clear forest land near the Nam Lea Wildlife Sanctuary in O’Raing district’s Dak Dam commune on Tuesday.
Mondulkiri provincial police chief Lor Sokha told The Post on Wednesday that the five Vietnamese nationals were hired by Mega First Corp Bhd, which has an economic land concession in the area, to clear the land, a claim denied by the company.
Sokha said the Vietnamese nationals had proper passports and visas but no work permits. They were therefore not deported and instead instructed to gain proper work documents, he noted.
He said the bulldozers seized by police are being held at the provincial Customs Office, and that the authorities required the Vietnamese nationals to sign a contract to cease their work before allowing them to leave.
“We can’t reveal their identities and didn’t deport them from Cambodia either because they have valid passports. But they have no working permits.
“So, we required them to ask for working permits from the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training first, while we hand over their machinery to customs officials to be held,” he said.
Dak Dam commune indigenous community representative Kroeung Tola said that on Tuesday, the five Vietnamese nationals appeared with four bulldozers and trucks to clear the forest land without proper permission.
The operators, he said, had not yet bulldozed the land because as they were preparing to do so, more than 30 community members flocked to the area, catching them by surprise which led to police intervening before a compromise with the Vietnamese workers was reached.
“After there was a compromise, the police took the four bulldozers to be held. But I don’t know where they took them. The Vietnamese nationals were released by the police.
“But I don’t know whether the authorities required them to make a contract or not. Now, there is no activity in the area – we stopped them on time,” he said.
Provincial Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries director Song Kheang said he had information about the case and would send officials to investigate it.
He said he was not sure to whom the land that the Vietnamese nationals were about to bulldoze belonged to.
“I will assign experts to go down to investigate further because I don’t know yet if the land in the area is under the management of the environment department or the management of the provincial agriculture department.
“I want my officials to go down to check the location so we are clear about this issue,” he said.
Ministry of Environment spokesman Neth Pheaktra declined to comment, referring questions to Keo Sopheak.
Sopheak, the provincial Department of Environment director, could not be reached for comment.
Mega First supervisor Sok Theb denied that the company hired the five Vietnamese nationals, claiming that they were found on company land after fleeing onto it as villagers and police confronted them.
“My company did not hire the machinery or the Vietnamese nationals to bulldoze the land. They ran onto the company’s land when they saw the authorities and residents coming to stop them.
“Fearful, they ran onto the company’s land first. But now authorities took the machinery and released them. They made a contract agreeing to stop their activities,” he said.
Pen Bunna, local community empowerment programme officer with rights group Adhoc, said the authorities must closely monitor companies with economic land concessions because they often encroach upon villagers’ land or protected areas.
“We have seen this in the past. The occurrence of land disputes and forest losses stem from economic land concessions that were given out.
“For example, if the state decides to grant 100ha to a company, but it goes on to bulldoze as much as 150ha, it must be stopped. It affects citizens’ land and/or state land, and is not lawful” he claimed.